The Truth About Cars » Scion FR-S The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:30:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Scion FR-S Slow Sales Of Scion FR-S Disappoint Toyota, Jeopardize Engine Upgrades Wed, 19 Feb 2014 22:40:23 +0000 2013_Scion_FR-S_--_2012_NYIAS

The Scion FR-S – lightweight, affordable sports car that the world was supposedly waiting for – is reportedly lagging behing its sales targets across the globe, making it difficult for Toyota to justify upgrading the engine or bringing a convertible to market.

Speaking to Auto Express, Toyota Europe R&D head Gerald Killman said

“A faster version of that car would be at the top of most people’s wish lists, but like the cabriolet, it is hard to justify a business case to push either model into production based on the current sales.”

Killman also reportedly expressed befuddlement over the car’s cool reception in the market, depsite enthusiastic reviews, not realizing that this is exactly the problem. Enthusiasts, like automotive journalists, don’t buy new cars. Even though they clamored for a new rear-drive sports car that was relatively affordable, gearheads still found fault with all sorts of things, from the lack of power to the less than impressive numbers it put up and even the sub-$25k pricetag (according to some, it should have been around $20k). If this car suffers an unnaturally short lifespin, there will be plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth from the same people who criticized it and never bought it in the first place.

This is also a particularly tough time for a youth-oriented sports car to exist in the marketplace. Car ownership for the FR-S’ target market has become a faraway dream in Europe, a relic of an idea in Japan and a luxury in North America. Personally, I think the car was a victim of too much hype. The Toyobaru could never measure up to the effusive praise heaped on it by the media, though I have grown to like the car more and more as time goes on.






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Cain’s Segments: The Toyobaru Twins Thu, 07 Nov 2013 13:00:39 +0000 TTAC-FRS-Essential

It’s been a year-and-a-half, and the Toyobaru twins have not lost their luster. Proximity has not made the heart grow less fond. American sports car consumers still want to buy the Scion FR-S and the Subaru BRZ.

In the case of the lower-volume Subaru, the desire is growing at an especially fast rate.

Shortly after sports cars and coupes and roadsters debut, we expect to see demand tail off. Deep-seated anticipation leads many customers to buy early. Perhaps their orders were already in, maybe they only need a five-minute test drive. And we did see this with both the FR-S and BRZ. FR-S volume has never risen as high as it did in the car’s first full month, June 2012, when 2684 were sold. BRZ sales have twice stepped ahead of the early level, but only after many months went by. BRZ volume fell 39% from June 2012’s 818 units in July 2012. Again, this outcome was anticipated and thus it was tolerated.

Fortunately, the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ levelled off afterwards, at the very least. Scion averaged 1441 FR-S sales per month over the second half of 2012, 1547 FR-S sales in Q1 of 2013, 1794 in Q2, and 1582 U.S. sales in Q3.

The BRZ averaged 509 sales per month in the second half of 2012, never falling below 402 units; never rising above 623. Subaru dealers then averaged 596 sales per month in the first quarter of 2013, 760 sales in Q2, and 759 in Q3.

Your pressure is fine, Toyobaru. Both diastolic and systolic are within statistical norms.

This kind of sure and steady improvement has been known to occur with other new coupes. On a longer-term scale, Dodge has consistently sold more Challengers each and every year since the muscle car debuted in 2008.

On the other hand, Mazda watched as sales of the MX-5 tumbled year after year from 2006 until 2011 – a 66% drop over that span – before rising only slightly in 2012 and then falling again in 2013. We’re judging a fairly brief period with the BRZ and FR-S, and their rawness could limit appeal over the long haul. In the here and now, however, it’s safe to say that for each of these two cars to have succeeded there must have been more than hype on their side.

Yet the method by which we measure success depends a great deal on how we view a car’s competitive set. We know the FR-S isn’t supposed to sell as often as a Camry, but establishing the kinds of cars with which the FR-S and BRZ are most likely to be cross-shopped is a task for owners of crystal balls. Will you consider an FR-S and a Genesis Coupe, a BRZ and a WRX, an FR-S and a Camaro, a BRZ and an MX-5, an FR-S and a 1-Series?

We’ve displayed a plethora of possible opponents in the accompanying table for you to peruse. There’s no doubt that American car buyers turn to (sometimes Canadian-built) American muscle cars in very high numbers. Many more buyers want two doors but prefer a softer, gentler, front-wheel-drive warm hatch.

We should also take the time to consider a wider-ranging field. In the grand scheme of things, in terms of different types of cars which left showroom floors in 2013, how do the overall numbers for the FR-S and BRZ measure up? Combined sales of the BRZ and FR-S reached 23,126 units between January and October.

Lincoln sold 26,684 MKZs during that ten-month period. Cadillac sold 26,472 XTS sedans. Acura sold 21,057 TLs. Toyota Yaris sales fell 24% to 20,029. Volvo sold 20,008 S60s. The Chevrolet Volt, America’s 71st-best-selling car this year, found 18,782 buyers. The Nissan Leaf is just 704 sales back of the Volt.

On an individual basis, for every Porsche 911 sold, Scion sells nearly two copies of the FR-S. Mazda 6 volume is more than twice as high as FR-S volume. The BRZ sells about twice as often as the Scion iQ and more than three times as often as the BMW Z4.

The Lincoln MKZ, of course, isn’t a Scion FR-S rival, even though TTAC’s managing editor doesn’t become weak-in-the-knees over either car. Nevertheless, if we’re trying to gauge popularity, if we’re trying to acquire a clearer understanding of the frequency of a BRZ sale, paying attention to other successes and failures is of some benefit.

The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ have both been hits. Don’t let hit status lull you into thinking that your uncle’s next car will be an FR-S. He will trade in his RAV4 for another RAV4. And remember, your neighbour doesn’t drive a BRZ. She just leased a Mercedes-Benz CLA250. Obviously.

Audi A5
1487 1308 + 13.7% 15,975 14,313 + 11.6%
BMW 1-Series
588 778 - 24.4% 5482 6313 - 13.2%
Chevrolet Camaro
5669 5122 + 10.7% 70,484 74,090 - 4.9%
Dodge Challenger
3256 2686 + 21.2% 45,833 36,309 + 26.2%
Ford Mustang
6918 5328 + 29.8% 66,083 72,149 - 8.4%
Honda CR-Z
325 244 + 33.2% 3871 3705 + 4.5%
Hyundai Veloster
2175 2464 - 11.7% 25,448 30,802 - 17.4%
Infiniti G37
Coupe/Convertible & Q60
657 718 - 8.5% 8816 11,004 - 19.9%
Mazda MX-5 Miata
377 461 - 18.2% 5167 5542 - 6.8%
Mini Cooper
(Hardtop, Convertible,
Clubman, Coupe, Roadster)
3145 4053 - 22.4% 35,519 37,239 - 4.6%
Nissan 370Z
537 383 + 40.2% 5648 6482 - 12.9%
Scion FR-S
1233 1107 + 11.4% 16,000 8572 + 86.7%
Scion tC
1499 1654 - 9.4% 16,505 19,790 - 16.6%
Subaru BRZ
780 402 + 94.0% 7126 3120 + 128%
Subaru Impreza WRX/STi
1356 1100 + 23.3% 14,782 10,629 + 39.1%
Volkswagen Golf GTI
1032 966 + 6.8% 11,287 14,226 - 20.7%
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Review: 2014 Scion tC (With Video) Tue, 17 Sep 2013 16:23:02 +0000 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Many assumed that with the new FR-S hitting the dealers, it would only be a matter of time before the front-wheel-drive tC was sent out to pasture. However with an average buyer age of 28, the tC is isn’t just the youngest Toyota, it’s the youngest car in America. With demographics like that, product planners would be fools to kill off the tC and so the “two coupé strategy” was born. The last time we looked at the tC, the FR-S had yet to be born, this time the tC has been refreshed in the FR-S’ image. Which two door is right for you? Click past the jump, the answer might surprise you.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Let’s start with the nitty-gritty. Starting at $19,695 and barely climbing to $20,965, the tC is 25% cheaper than an FR-S. This pricing delta is why (in my mind) the tC’s sales numbers haven’t fallen since the FR-S was released with 2012 slightly above 2011. If you think of the tC as the budget FR-S alternative, the two-coupé strategy starts to make more sense. From dealers I have spoken with it seems to be working. Prospective buyers that can’t quite afford an FR-S or are having troubles justifying the cost to themselves have been looking at the less expensive tC.

With strategy in mind, Scion decided to remake the front-driver in the FR-S’ image. Wise choice since the FR-S is one of the best looking modern Toyota designs. Because hard points remain the same on this refresh, tweaks are limited to new bumper covers, headlamps, tail lamps and wheels. I think the tC’s new nose suits the coupé surprisingly well since most nose jobs range from peculiar to downright Frankenstein. Similarly, the new rear bumper cover fixed the 2013′s tall and flat rear bumper cover by breaking it up with a black panel and a non-functional triangular red lens. What’s the lens for? That’s anyone’s guess.  To see how the two Scions stack up, check out my 5-second Photoshop mash-ups.

tC vs FR-S Front  tC vs FR-S Back

While some found the new clear tail lamps too “boy racer,” I think they work better on the tC and with the tC’s target demographic than the old units. As is obvious by the photos,the FR-S is quite low to the ground with a low slung cabin creating the low center of gravity it is known for. The tC on the other hand is mainstream economy coupé.

Since this is just a refresh, the tC’s major styling problem is still with us: the ginormous C-pillar and small rear window. Aside from my personal belief that the look is awkward, the shape has a serious impact on visibility creating large blindspots for the driver and not permitting rear passengers to see the scenery. The new tC’s new looks should be enough to get FR-S shoppers short on cash to give the tC a once-over before cross-shopping. Mission accomplished. Compared to the other FWD competition I rank the tC second, below the new Kia Forte Koup and above the somewhat bland Honda Civic.

2014 Scion tC Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Once inside the tC, FR-S shoppers are likely to be disappointed as there is very little FR-S inside Scion’s FWD coupé. Hard plastics in a mixture of black and charcoal hues continue to dominate the cabin, something I was OK with in 2011 because the competition was coated in hard polymer as well. Nearly three years later, the competition has upped the game with the 2013 Civic bringing soft injection molded dash parts to the segment followed by the 2014 Forte’s stylish new interior. It’s also worth noting that Scion continues to offer the tC in one interior color: black. Sticking with Scion’s model of streamlined inventory, all tCs have a standard dual-pane glass sunroof which is an interesting touch but I think I would trade it for upgraded materials.

Front seat comfort is strictly average in the tC.  Front seats offer limited adjustibility and little lumbar support (the seats do not have an adjustable lumbar support feature). tC drivers sit in a more upright fashion than in the FR-S thanks to the tC’s overall taller proportions but thanks to that large C-pillar, visibility is worse than the low-slung FR-S. The tC’s rear seats are a different matter. At 34.5 inches, the tC sports nearly two inches more rear legroom than the Forte Koup (2013 numbers), four more than the Civic and five more than the FR-S. Combined with a surprising amount of headroom, it is possible to put four 6-foot tall adults in the tC for a reasonable amount of time. Thanks to the hatch back design and a trunk that’s 50% larger than the Civic and more than 110% larger than the FR-S, you can jam luggage for four in the back of the tC as well.

2014 Scion tC Interior, BeSpoke Autio System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment & Gadgets

The only major change inside the tC is a new Pioneer head-unit. Instead of borrowing radios from Toyota, Scion has generally gone for consumer branded units that are designed for Scion but share nothing with the Toyota parts bin. The notable exception was the old Toyota derived navigation unit which was found in a few Scion models with an eye watering $2,250 price tag. For 2014 Scion is using a new Pioneer made system featuring 8-speakers, HD Radio, iDevice/USB integration and an integrated CD player. The software looks like a blend of Pioneer’s interface and something from Toyota’s new Entune systems. The over all look is less elegant and far more “aftermarket” than the well-integrated systems from Kia or even Honda’s funky dual-level system in the Civic. Sound quality however was excellent in the tC with well matched speakers and moderately high limits.

Should you feel particularly spendy, you can pay Scion $1,200 to add the “BeSpoke Premium Audio System” which is a fancy way of saying navigation software and smartphone app integration. Take my advice, spend your $1,200 on something else. The tC’s lack of infotainment bling is troubling since Scion positions themselves as a brand for the young. At 33 I’m still in the vicinity of the tCs target market (average age 28) and even to my elderly eyes, the entire Scion brand lags in this area. Yes, the idea is: buy an aftermarket radio and have it installed, but I can’t be the only one that wants a super-slick system with a large touchscreen, navigation and smartphone apps as the standard system. Anyone at Scion listening?

On the gadget front, the tC and the Civic are well matched but Kia’s new Forte is rumored to offer goodies like a backup camera, color LCD in the gauge cluster, dual-zone climate controls, push-button start, keyless entry, HID headlamps, power seats, etc. That leaves the Scion in an odd position having no factory options at all and competing only with relatively base models of the competition.

2014 Scion tC Engine, 2.5L Four Cylinder, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain & Drive

The tC uses the same four-cylinder engine found under the hood of the Camry and RAV4. The 2.5L mill has lost 1 horsepower and 1 lb-ft for 2014 (for no apparent reason) dropping to 179HP at 6,000 RPM and 172 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 RPM. Sending power to the front wheels is a standard 6-speed close ratio manual transmission and an optional revised 6-speed automatic that now features throttle matched down-shifts. If those numbers sound healthy, they should. I have a preference toward engines “symmetrical” power numbers (HP and tq are nearly equal) as they usually provide a well-rounded driving experience. That is certainly true of the tC, especially when you compare it to the 2.0L engine in the FR-S.

Boo! Hiss! I know, it’s sacrilege to say anything less than positive about a direct-injection boxer engine, but let’s look at the fine print. The FR-S’ 200 ponies don’t start galloping until 7,000RPM, a grand higher than the Camry-sourced 2.5, but the real problem is the torque. The FR-S has only 151 lb-ft to play with and you have to wait until 6,600 RPM for them to arrive. That’s 2,600 RPM higher than the 2.5. This has a direct impact on the driveability and the character of the two coupés. The FR-S needs to be wound up to the stratosphere to make the most of the engine while the tC performs well at “normal” engine RPMs. Hill climbing and passing are the two areas where the difference in character is most obvious. The FR-S needs to drop a few gears in order to climb or pass while the tC can often stay in 6th. Sure, the FR-S sounds great when singing at 7-grand, but you’re not always on a majestic mountain highway, sometimes you’re just on the freeway in rush hour. Thanks to a lower curb weight and gearing differences, the FR-S ran to 60 in 6.7 seconds last time we tested it, 9/10ths faster than the tC.

2014 Scion tC Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Don’t mistake me, the FR-S has higher limits than the tC pulling more Gs in the corners and having a very neutral handling RWD nature while the tC plows like a John Deere in the corners. What might surprise you however is that despite the nose-heavy FWD nature of the tC, in stock form, at 8/10ths on a winding track, the FR-S is likely to pull away. Some of that has to do with the tC’s improved suspension and chassis for 2014, but plenty has to do with the stock rubber choice on the FR-S. Scion fits low-rolling-resistance tired to the RWD coupé in order to improve fuel economy AND to make the FR-S capable of tail-happy fun with only 151lb-ft of twist. When it comes to the hard numbers we don’t have a skidpad in the Northern California TTAC testing grounds so I’m going to have to refer to “Publication X’s” numbers: FR-S 0.87g, tC 0.84g. Say what? Yep. regardless of the publication the tC scores shockingly close to the FR-S in road holding. Surprised? I was. More on that later.

How about the competition? Let’s dive in. The Civic Si is a bit more hard-core. Available only with a manual transmission, a wide demographic has to be removed from the comparison. However those that like to row their own will find a FWD 6-speed manual transaxle that is, dare i say it, better than many RWD transmissions. The shift feel and clutch pedal are near perfection and the limited slip front differential helps the Civic on the track. In the real world there’s less daylight between the two however with essentially the same curb weight, equal torque numbers and only a 20HP lead by the Honda. The result is a Civic that ties in my mind with a better interior and better road manners but higher price tag ($22,515) and a loss of practicality when it comes to cargo and people hauling.

2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I’m going to gloss over the Golf because, as I learned on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the other. How about the Hyundai Elantra Coupe? It’s considerably down on power (148 HP / 131 lb-ft), has a cheaper interior and handles like a damp noodle. If you’re wondering why the Elantra GT had to get its bones stiffened, the Elantra Coupé is why. How about the GT? Like the Golf, it’s not quite the same animal. Altima? Dead. Eclipse? Ditto. The Genesis plays with the FR-S and the other bigger boys which brings us to the oddly spelled Kia Forte Koup.

The 2014 Koup has yet to be driven, but based on our experiences with the 2013 Koup and the 2014 Forte 4-door sedan, I expect great things. Kia has announced the Koup will land with an optional 1.6L turbo engine good for 201 ponies and 195 lb-ft of twist. I expect the chassis and manual transmission to still be a step behind the Honda Civic Si, but the interior and gadget count on the Koup look class leading. Unless Kia gets the Koup all wrong, I expect it to slot in around 20-23K. I also expect it to lead my list.

2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

That brings us full circle to the tCs fiercest competitor: its stable mate the FR-S. No matter how you slice it, the tC isn’t as good-looking. It may seat four with relative ease, but the interior isn’t as nice as the FR-S either. It delivers good fuel economy and is plenty of fun on the road, but the appeal of the tC is more pragmatic than emotional. Still, when the numbers are added up the tC delivers 75% of the FR-S’ looks, 85% of the handling and 90% of the performance for 78% of the price. Being the deal hound I am, that makes the tC the better Scion.


Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Well priced
  • Excellent handling (for a FWD car)

Quit it

  • Cheap plastics inside continue
  • The steering isn’t as precise as the Civic Si.
  • Lack of premium or tech options young buyers demand

Scion provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as Tested

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 7.6 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.8 Seconds @ 89 MPH

Cabin Noise: 76db @ 50 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 29.6 MPG over 459 miles


2014 Scion tC Engine 2014 Scion tC Engine, 2.5L Four Cylinder, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Exterior 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Exterior-002 2014 Scion tC Exterior-003 2014 Scion tC Exterior-004 2014 Scion tC Exterior-005 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Exterior-007 2014 Scion tC Exterior-008 2014 Scion tC Exterior-009 2014 Scion tC Exterior-010 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Interior 2014 Scion tC Interior-001 2014 Scion tC Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Interior-003 2014 Scion tC Interior-004 2014 Scion tC Interior-005 2014 Scion tC Interior, BeSpoke Autio System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Interior-009 2014 Scion tC Interior-010 2014 Scion tC Interior-011 ]]> 109
Evo Finds Out What’s Faster: Fiesta ST Or FR-S Wed, 26 Jun 2013 18:58:53 +0000

When Jack Baruth took the Scion FR-S to the track and pronounced it the least desirable among its chief rivals, some readers were despondent. How could the car that would supposedly provide good care for the sick and slow the rise of the oceans be ranked dead last against a hairdresser’s car and a Korean Pony Car?

EVO Magazine stands as one of the few outlets that hasn’t bought into the Toyobaru hype either. A prior test against a Renaultsport Megane 265 Trophy was fair less charitable than the ST vs GT86 shootout above. Even so, the latest shootout has a Ford Fiesta ST, a front drive hot hatch that’s down on displacement and outright power, handing the Toyota GT86 its ass.

Now, EVO’s Dickie Meaden says that the GT86 is much more fun – the same rationale we used to rank the MX-5 in first place, despite being the slowest car and rolling in the corners like a Coachella reveler high on MDMA. Fun counts for a lot. Unless you are a real HPDE 1 hero or, an auto journalist, your lap times really count for very little in the real world. But it’s worth noting that the lead the ST established over the GT86 is pretty big. And the Fiesta ST seems to shake a tail just fine, even if it is “wrong wheel drive”. We know the Toyobarus are fun cars and capable track cars. If anything, this suggests that the Fiesta ST should be an absolute riot, and perhaps even better than the Focus ST.

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Mark Reuss Keeps Pushing For Rear-Drive Small Chevy Mon, 06 May 2013 16:29:59 +0000 Chevrolet Code103R. Photo courtesy Automotive News.

Almost exactly one month after TTAC first broached news of a possible compact rear-drive Chevrolet, TTAC commenter and GM North America vice-president Mark Reuss is still dropping hints about such a product.

Speaking to Automotive News on the prospect of a possible competitor to the Scion FR-S

“A really nice, light, rear-drive car that’s inexpensive — we know that rings a bell, that’d be a huge win for us if we had that.”

While reaction to the Code 130R was reportedly strong, Reuss said that the Code’s styling would not be put into production. Apparently, the Alpha platform would not be used either, echoing earlier comments by Reuss. That would necessitate another compact, rear-drive platform like GM’s former Kappa architecture, and of course, further variants to help make that venture profitable. Bring it on, GM.

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Could Chevrolet Revive The Chevelle As An RWD Car? Just Maybe Fri, 05 Apr 2013 16:07:10 +0000

Over at Jalopnik, Patrick George discusses the recent trademark filing by General Motors for the Chevelle name. After a brief discussion regarding trademark procedure, George makes a logical conclusion; the Chevelle name may end up attached to something less than worthy, similar to how Dodge’s C-segment car ended up with the Dart moniker. But there is a potential ray of sunshine here for enthusiasts.

In January, TTAC commenter nadude (or as he’s known to everyone else, Mark Reuss, GM’s North American head) told an Australian news outlet that the Code 130R concept car “would be a great entry for us.” The Code 130R was a BMW 1-Series-esque concept car that used an FR layout and an efficient four-cylinder engine, not unlike the Scion FR-S.

As for how the car might make it into production

“I don’t know if they (Toyota) are making any money but it is a very attractive car…we would do something with the knowledge of Alpha and the background, but we wouldn’t take Alpha and try and shrink it.”

Currently, Alpha only has two vehicles based off of it; the Cadillac ATS and the next generation Chevrolet Camaro. GM will need to utilize this architecture further, as a way of amortizing its costs. Toyota is following a similar approach with the FR-S, spawning multiple variants to help absorb the costs of developing such a platform from the ground up.

While Reuss’ comments seem to suggest something different, it’s hard to make an armchair guess on how GM would get the Code 130R into production. At least GM has some kind of basis to start with, not to mention the will of some of its top level execs. As TTAC’s resident “voice of a generation”, I’ve already given the stamp of approval to the Code 130R. Unlike the SS, I could actually afford this, and the FR-S, as many of you know, doesn’t quite do it for me. So how about a compact, 4-cylinder Chevelle with rear-drive based off of some kind of Alpha platform? Sounds good to me.

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Scion’s Upmarket Expansion Gives Hope For FR-S Spinoffs Mon, 01 Apr 2013 11:00:23 +0000

A couple weeks back, Tetsuya Tada, father of the Scion FR-S, wistfully meditated on his desire to see more variants of the Scion FR-S, including a shooting brake. Rather than dismissive them as fantasy-bait for the enthusiast set, TTAC determined that there is probably a good business case for developing more variants of the Toyobaru platform. After all, you can’t spend billions on an all new platform and only build one low volume niche model off of it, right?

For anyone rooting for this scenario, there’s more encouraging news. Toyota executives are pondering an upward expansion of the Scion brand, and the FR-S could be the focal point of that initiative.

Automotive News is reporting that a group of executives at Toyota’s American arm are looking into the possibility of taking Scion upmarket. With the bottom end of the car market creeping upwards and German brands like Mercedes-Benz and Audi just nudging the $30,000 floor with products like the CLA and A3, there is a potential opening for Scion to slot a new product in the $25,000-$30,000 price bracket, just slightly above the current FR-S. Ironically, while Mercedes and Audi are opting for front-drive platforms, a potential Scion competitor using the FR-S platform would be rear-drive, and all the enthusiast cachet that goes with it.

Aside from the FR-S and the front-drive tC sports coupe, Scion’s product lineup is rather stale; aside from the qurky iQ, the xB and xD subcompacts are 6 years old, despite Scion’s promise of quick product turnaround times. When Scion first launched in 2002, entry-level cars could be had for around $13,000. Nowadays, a subcompact car can easily nudge $20,000. Toyota is also due to launch the next generation Corolla, which will feature more aggressive styling and be positioned at Generation Y customers.

While Toyota USA may be undecided on what to do with Scion, this development seems to shore up the notion that variants of the Toyobaru are on their way, in one form or another. Whether the United States will get them is one matter, but it would be difficult to think that a company as savvy as Toyota would go through all the effort and expense of developing a new vehicle platform without maximizing economies of scale. In the current marketplace of modular architectures and razor thin profit margins, it would be foolish for Toyota not to do so. In addition, it would be the rarest of events in the automotive world, one where the interests of both the bean counters and car guys have aligned.

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The Most Expensive Supercharger Kit…In The Wuuurrrlllllllddd Fri, 22 Mar 2013 15:35:42 +0000

Have you ever seen a supercharger kit that costs more than the car in question?  TRD’s new supercharger kit for the Scion FR-S costs an astonishing $26,000, more than the MSRP of the FR-S itself.

The supercharger is meant primarily for the SCCA Prielli World Challenge Series, but for it to be legal, it must be offered for sale. Prospective buyers are required to order a minimum of two kits, and must supply their own engine management. Presumably, this is done to keep the kit out of the hands of the “IMPORT 2NR” crowd, but this still seems like an exorbitant sum for a mid-level sports car racing series.

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Tada’s GT-86 Dreams Decoded Thu, 14 Mar 2013 17:33:03 +0000

Ahh, the benefits of free PR. Mere minutes after Toyota UK’s official blog posted their “interview” with GT 86 chief engineer Tetsuya Tada, the outlets of the autoblogosphere were alight with Tada’s comments praising shooting brakes.

See, dropping a choice quote about Tada’s desire for a GT86 shooting brake isn’t just a coldly calculated way to ensure that this interview is re-posted ad infintium  on every content aggregator and “enthusiast blog” (read: free PR machine for the OEMs) in the world. It also provides a bit of insight into the economics of vehicle development, sales and manufacturing today – not to mention the PR and marketing side.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to how it all works. Toyota’s in-house communication channel gets an “exclusive” interview with Tada-san, which is even more tightly controlled than it would be with a third party blog. Everything here is being tailored to get the exact message out that Toyota wants.

But it can’t be too dry and fawning, or else the rest of the blogosphere wouldn’t seize on the original work, alter it slightly and then publish it under their own name. So a few nuggets must be dropped in to appeal to the auto blogger army, who tend to be automotive uber-nerds of the highest order. So we get the following quote

“Mass producing a sports car for a company like Toyota carries a big business risk and we’ve tried to mitigate that risk with our collaboration with Subaru. We say, ‘mitigate’ in one [easy] word, but we had to make some really tough decisions for us to realise this. Also, along the way, we investigated the possibility of a sedan [saloon] and a shooting brake.”

At this point, a million articles entitled “SCION FR-S SEDAN AND SHOOTING BRAKE HINTED AT BY TOYOTA”, and that’s that. The real juice is of course, further down the article, but over the heads of anyone without real understanding of the auto industry.

“It’s just my personal dream that the GT86 could become a family like what BMW has done with the Mini family. I hope that happens.”

Whereas the car nerds see a savior-like product that can redeem the homogeneous  soulless and terminally boring auto industry, Toyota sees a costly niche vehicle with little opportunity to take advantage of scale. Car development is a multi-billion dollar exercise. If a giant like Toyota needed to partner with Subaru to mitigate some of the financial risk, you can imagine what an undertaking the 86 program must have been.

Luckily, there’s a way around this problem, as BMW has demonstrated with Mini; make a million variants of the base car, with each one carrying a slight differentiation and a substantial price premium to allow for greater margin. While most Mini variants look like a cynical exercise in foisting high margin crap on self-concious yuppies, a range of FT-86 derived products would be pretty cool. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want a lineup of affordable, rear-drive vehicles that met their practical as well as emotional needs? The complexities of vehicle design also dictate that variants like a convertible had to be thought of in advance during the 86′s engineering.

There’s a good chance that these future variants, like a shooting brake and a sedan, were also envisioned, and likely not forgotten. Auto makers do not just turn on a dime and decide to produce a full lineup just because one niche sports car has done well – the timeline of vehicle development is simply too long  and too planned in advance for these things to happen. Everything in this business comes down to money. If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense. Never forget that. In fact, it’s quite liberating. And sometimes, it even leads to desirable outcomes like this.


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Hachi Roku Drops The Top Fri, 01 Mar 2013 16:54:04 +0000

Ever try and play a round of golf as a Miata driver? From first hand experience, I can tell you it doesn’t work well. If you are lucky at manipulating large objects and have nothing else in the trunk, your golf bag might fit. God help you if you are giving a friend a lift to the course. One golf bag will go in the passenger footwell, the other will likely have to sit on the folded soft top, with the passenger’s arm holding the golf bag. Ask me how I know.

The long-rumored Toyota FT-86 convertible, seen here in concept form solves that problem. The hachi roku’s back seats aren’t really suitable for a full-size adult, let alone two of them, but like the Porsche 911, they can store golf clubs (or a helmet bag if you’re so inclined) with easy. Mechanically, the drop top Toyobaru is the same I think it looks fantastic, and I’d really like the iPhone holder shaped like two pistons. I’m allowed to have that in my Miata, right?

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Altezza Lights: A Retrospective Thu, 28 Feb 2013 14:00:02 +0000

There are some automotive fads that we can liken to the leather jacket; a contemporary piece of clothing that has endured the test of time to become a staple of one’s wardrobe. The Hoffmeister kink may be the best example of an aesthetic detail that’s achieved this sort of ubiquity and acceptance. On the other hand, certain things, like denim shirts for men and a certain style of empire waist tops that were once labeled “tit curtains” by an old lady friend of mine ( due to their unflattering drape on her trim figure) have faded away after a few seasons in the department stores. The automotive equivalent of these unfortunate footnotes may be the “Altezza” or clear lens tail lights that were all the rage a decade ago.

The Altezza tail lights originated on the Toyota Altezza, also known as the Lexus IS in markets outside of Japan. Despite being sold as a Lexus, the Altezza was designed in part by members of the hachi-roku’s development team – the original, Corolla AE86, that is. Numerous boy-racer touches, like the chronograph style gauge cluster, the drilled aluminum pedals and the oversized wheels lent the IS a youthful sensibility that may have explained why the car never really did well. As a pubescent boy with a subscription to Super Street magazine, I thought it was the coolest luxury car money could buy and promptly bugged my father to buy one. All it took was one trip to the Lexus dealer, with him in the front seat and me in the back directly behind him, to convince me that I didn’t want to spend a second longer than necessary in the unbearably cramped rear seat.

Of course, none of that stopped the aftermarket from cranking out Altezza lights by the trawler-load. All of a sudden, everything from the usual Honda Civics to dubbed-out SUVs to the awful GM J-Bodies with egregiously oxidized rear quarter panels sported these dreadful contraptions in place of the stock lamps. Even though my idea of a chick magnet was an old Nissan 240SX spray painted rattle can black with a fartcan muffler and a whistling blow-off valve, I knew that Altezza lights were a step too far, an undeniable sign of poor breeding and limited economic prospects. If only I knew that the most nubile women in my cohort were attracted to precisely that kind of guy, and not somebody who read Tom Wolfe and still bought their clothes at Old Navy.

It wasn’t long before Altezza lights began to appear on other cars. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution’s first U.S. bound iteration was the first to feature clear tail lights, and even Mazda’s timeless MX-5 roadster succumbed to this awful trend, a problem which was mercifully rectified during the mid-cycle refresh of 2009. By that time, the whole “Import 2NR” crowd had died off thanks to the recession, the “Fast & Furious” movies morphed into generic action/car-chase flicks and the Lexus IS had become a rather staid option in the sports sedan segment.

As of now, only one car comes to mind when clear tail lights are mentioned; the Scion FR-S. Despite my complaints about certain aspects of the car, I love the way it looks – save for those damn clear lights. Though I suppose, given the car’s lineage, it is a rather appropriate choice.

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Scion FR-S Convertible Coming To Geneva In March Fri, 01 Feb 2013 16:06:34 +0000

Anyone attending the Geneva Auto Show will get to see a concept version of the Toyota 86 convertible, pictured above in a sketch. Enjoy it as you sip your 7 Franc lattes. We’ll have live shots for you starting March 5th, once the show is on. Maybe it will be warm enough to put the top down on the MX-5 by then…

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Mountain State Review: 2013 Scion FR-S vs. 2006 Mazda RX-8 Tue, 20 Nov 2012 14:00:04 +0000

It’s the perfect day and the perfect road for a brisk mountain drive in the siena red Z3. For the last time this year it’s easily warm enough to put the top down—in a little over a week the remnants of Hurricane Sandy will bury the area in snow. WV15 winds tightly along a mountain ridge, flanked on each side by peaking fall foliage. Valleys far below on each side, you’re on top of the world. There’s only one problem with this soul stirring picture: my father started the day closer to Cass, and the BMW is holding me up. With the next brief straight I snick the firm, short-throw shifter into third, spur the boxer well over 4,000 rpm, and roar past him. WV15 is an even better road for a Scion FR-S en route to meet up with a pair of Mazda RX-8s for our Third Annual Appalachian Road Trip.

No car is the best car for every situation. The Scion was borderline awful on I75 the previous day, assaulting my ears with tire roar and the rest of me with incessant jiggling. “Steel drum,” I note. My ass grows sore within an hour. The seatbelt cuts into my neck each time I forget to fasten the retaining strap to the left of the headrest. Due to the small windows and lack of a sunroof option, the dark, plasticky interior has the ambiance of a cave, albeit one with red stitching. The needle of the analog speedometer starts off at four o’clock, and even at highway speeds is still pointing towards my left knee. It’s nearly useless, so luckily there’s a digital speedometer in the tach face. One wonders why they didn’t follow Mazda’s example with the RX-8 and drop the analog dial altogether.

But the Scion’s fuel economy is good when you consider that it’s geared for performance. On I75 (speed limit 70, actual speed somewhat higher) the trip computer reports 31 mpg. I leave the Interstate for US20. On this 55 mph four-land road the noise level becomes much more bearable and gas mileage jumps to 36.

Still, these endlessly straight highways are not the ideal habitat for an FR-S. Anyone who’ll regularly be driving them is well advised to buy something cushier. Aside from minimal sound insulation and an unyielding suspension, the FR-S includes little beyond the most basic features. There aren’t even audio controls on the steering wheel. Then again, the problem with the audio system’s buttons isn’t that they’re hard to reach. They’re close at hand, but feel cheap and defy logic.

After 235 miles of driving I’d rather not repeat (but will in a few days) I finally exit I77 onto OH800. Afterwards, the further south I go the more frequently the road kinks. By the time I pick up OH26 in Bethesda, my opinion of the FR-S has improved dramatically. Even more than in the incredibly forgiving Mazda RX-8, you have to be extraordinarily clumsy with your inputs to upset this chassis. The rear end dances a bit more than the Mazda’s across mid-corner bumps, just another part of the price for the Scion’s stiffer suspension bits and lower curb weight. The car’s dynamic balance could hardly be more perfect. If you’re on the gas at all the rear tires will slide well before the fronts can start to scrub—in my time with the car the latter almost never happens.

I pass a couple of cars on the way out of Woodsfield, and the final 40-odd miles to Marietta are wide open. The sun is low in the sky, and I intend to be on the other side of the Ohio River before it drops below the horizon. The Scion’s 2.0-liter engine produces 200 horsepower, but at 7,000 rpm. Torque output peaks at a lofty 6,400 rpm, and there’s little twist south of 4,000. Once over bicycling speeds this isn’t a problem. When frequent curves call for oversteer on demand, just keep the engine at a constant boil over 4,000 rpm.

With an assist from the Torsen limited-slip rear differential, the boxer provides enough torque to work the rear end around even at fairly high speeds, but not enough to break it totally loose. At lower speeds it is possible to get the car sideways, but a touch of counter-steering easily retrieves it. For drivers who’ve never owned a rear-wheel-drive car before, the FR-S is a great place to start. At high rpm a “sound symposer” Auto-Tunes the boxer’s usual grumble into a surprisingly successful impersonation of a small block roar. Fuel economy falls in half, to 18 mpg.

Not everyone is a fan of the Michelin Primacy treads. But until near the end of this stretch, when the rear end gets a little loose, they cling tenaciously to 26’s curves without audible complaint. The seat’s tight, firm bolsters do the same with my torso, and now that there’s a need for them I don’t complain. Set to “sport,” the stability control provides just the right amount of safety net. There’s no need (as in the Infiniti G37 I drove along this route two years ago) to choose between an overly intrusive system and none at all. Even though the net is never clearly needed, on an unfamiliar, highly challenging road I appreciate knowing it’s there. After 40 exhilarating minutes I’m in Marietta.

The next day I drive from Parkersburg to Cass, passing that Z3 along the way. A few nearly brilliant miles on WV16 are wasted behind an expertly driven but still insufficiently speedy 18-wheeler, no passing zone coming to my rescue. Virtually all of the others are automotive nirvana. The roads are amazing, the trees are every color but green, other cars are few and far between, and the harder I push the FR-S the better it feels.

Rolling into Cass, I spy the old man’s copper red RX-8 parked on the shoulder. An old friend and his father in a second RX-8 won’t arrive for a few more hours. Cass, a former logging company town, is now a state park. We fill the time with a visit to the engine shop. Outside five old locomotives, Shays aside from one Heisler, are kept under steam 24/7 when they aren’t transporting tourists up and down the mountain. Inside, a sixth is being rebuilt. You can just hang out there as long as you like. We did. That night we stay in a nicely renovated “company house.” If you have any interest in steam locomotives, a trip to Cass is a must.

Not coincidentally, the scariest/most thrilling (depending on whom you ask) road in the state passes through Cass. An aptly named narrow asphalt ribbon, Back Mountain Road snakes back and forth, up and down through varied terrain. Limited sightlines and even more limited space for two cars to pass require slow speeds through many of the curves, but with others it’s possible to see that nothing’s coming. I’ve long thought the Mazda RX-8 the perfect car for such a road, where handling and visibility are a much higher priorities than power. Like the Scion, the Mazda puts handling over straight line performance and luxury, with minimal insulation, a peaky engine, and a finely balanced rear-wheel-drive chassis. I delayed my week with an FR-S by two months so I’d be able to compare the cars back-to-back in this ideal environment.

Hopping into my father’s car, differences become instantly apparent. With a slightly higher seating position and much larger windows, it’s considerably easier to see out of the Mazda in all directions. If Toyobaru took advantage of the flat four engine to lower the FR-S’s hood line, it’s far from evident. All of the RX-8′s control efforts (steering, throttle, brake, shifter) are much lower. In hard turns, the Mazda leans more and doesn’t feel as firmly tied down, but it also feels more agile and communicative. The Mazda aspires to drive like a smaller, lighter car than it is, and achieves this to a surprising degree.

Though the Scion is over 300 pounds lighter (2,758 vs. 3,075), it feels heavier. In character, it’s much closer to a 370Z or even a Camaro than to the Mazda. It does feel considerably smaller and lighter than those cars, but its throaty engine roar, tight suspension, heavy controls, and limited visibility place it in their genus. Or is the Scion a mixed-breed? If someone Miata’s got out while in estrus, and encountered a Z on the prowl, I wouldn’t be surprised if an FR-S arrived a few months later with the size and road manners of the mother but the character of the daddy.

Looking to more practical considerations, the Scion easily wins one category, with fuel economy about 50 percent better than the Mazda’s. But the RX-8 rides much more smoothly and quietly, making for a more relaxing drive the next day to Hawk’s Next (the FR-S is left behind in Cass). Our lodge is eight miles from an annual festival at the New River Bridge.

All four of us get into one of the Mazdas twice to sample some excellent local cuisine and a third time to watch hundreds of people base jump off the bridge. (One of Trey’s friends who happens to be a Navy SEAL, declared this insane, as the seven seconds it takes to plummet 900 feet to the bottom of the gorge provides little time to correct mishaps.) This wouldn’t have been possible in the FR-S, which has no rear doors, almost no rear legroom, and no space for toes under the front seats. (Back home later, even my smallest child complained.) There’s also a little less trunk space in the Scion, and much less storage space in the cabin, but either car will hold enough luggage for two people for an extended weekend.

In the end, I had a blast in both cars on the mountain roads. Both are very entertaining, yet also very forgiving, while also being fundamentally different. The Scion is much more fuel-efficient, while the Mazda’s genius packaging makes it far more practical in just about every other way. Picking one over the other based on how they drive is much like picking Thai food over Italian, or vice-versa. The Mazda RX-8 makes love to the road. The Scion FR-S masters it. Which do you want to do? Thousands of other drivers have already spoken with their wallets. The RX-8 is dead, while the 370Z and Camaro are still with us. In tuning the FR-S the way they did, Toyoburu’s development engineers have delivered what the market clearly prefers.

Scion provided an insured car with a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

Three against bridge and clouds, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh New River Bridge, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh Cass Shop tools, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh Company houses and 3 cars, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S 36 mpg, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S BMR front quarter, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S engine, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh, Toyota FR-S front Shay, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S interior, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S old lumber mill, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S rear seat, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh, Toyota FR-S Side Cass Shop, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S trunk, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S view forward, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S vs Heisler #6 800, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh Old man learns how to rebuild a boiler, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh RX-8 in Cass, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh Shay 11 and FR-S, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh Z3 WV15, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S Hutte, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S IP road, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh Fixing the torque issue, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 56
Review: 2013 Ford Focus ST Thu, 18 Oct 2012 14:22:34 +0000

When you’ve reviewed over 600 cars, few new ones surprise you. With the polished road manners and granitic structure of a far more expensive car, the 2012 Ford Focus was one of the few. But its 160-horsepower engine, while easily adequate for daily driving, doesn’t provide the thrust many driving enthusiasts demand. For 2013, this should no longer be a problem. A 252-horsepower Ford Focus ST has joined the line.

Some people find the exterior of the Focus overdone, but when shod with large five-spoke alloys it’s the most attractive car in the segment to my eye, with an athletic stance, excellent proportions (for a front-drive hatch), and hardly a line out of place. For the ST, Ford has enhanced the egg with a cleaner front fascia with a black grille, a centrally-located exhaust, and a larger spoiler. Big buck AMGs should be this tasteful.

Inside, Recaro buckets included with either option package are the most noteworthy upgrade (the base ST is fitted with the supportive buckets from the regular Focus). With the ST3 Package, the seating surfaces are entirely covered with charcoal leather. I prefer the partial leather seats in the ST2 Package, as their center panels are covered in a niftily textured fabric and their bolsters inject some much needed color (yellow, blue, or silver). With either option the Recaros provide both excellent lateral support and long-distance comfort (unless you’re too broad for them). The ST also gains some auxiliary gauges atop the center stack. As in other upper trim Foci, interior materials appear of high quality and feel solid.

My least favorite aspects of the regular Focus cannot be altered without a major redesign of the car. The instrument panel remains tall and deep beneath a severely raked windshield. A more open view over a more compact instrument panel would make for a more engaging driving experience. The center console is also more intrusive than most, but this doesn’t bother me like it does some people. If you like a lot of room behind the wheel, the Focus isn’t the car for you.

Move to the back seat, and if you or the driver is much over 5’9″ you’ll wish you hadn’t. Legroom remains short of the segment average. If you aren’t very tall, though, you’ll likely find the rear seat comfortable.

While the regular Focus is available as a sedan and a hatch, in North America the ST is available only in the latter body style. This does make for a practical car, if not as practical as the wagon offered in Europe.

The engine in the Focus ST is no low-volume bespoke mill. It’s also available beneath the hood of most other Ford models, in the larger cars serving not as the high-performance option but as the high-MPG option. For the ST it does kick out another 12 horsepower, for a total of 252 at 5,500 rpm, but this is entirely due to a less restrictive intake and exhaust. The engine itself is physically unchanged. Good things follow. First, as we’ll discuss in more detail below, Ford charges surprisingly little for the ST upgrades. Second, refinement is worthy of a mainstream $30,000+ car. Third, fuel economy is much better than with the most direct competitor. The MazdaSpeed3 has EPA ratings of 18 mpg city, 25 highway. The Focus ST does far better, with guilt-free EPA ratings of 23/32. (These estimates aren’t hard to replicate in the real world if you go easy on the gas.)

As it often does, refinement cuts both ways. There no kick or even a solid shove as boost kicks in. Instead, thrust builds very smoothly, and before you know it, the car is traveling well over 80 mph. Ford fitted a “sound symposer” to pipe intake noise into the cabin at high rpm. Nevertheless, the engine remains sufficiently quiet that a few times while powering out of a turn I felt the engine go limp, briefly wondered if a safety nanny had kicked in, then noticed that I was riding the 6,800-rpm rev limiter. It’s not easy to time shifts without keeping a close eye on the tach. First tops out very quickly. Between this and the tires’ inability to transfer all the engine’s torque to the pavement at low speeds, and ideally first would be a little taller.

While the ST’s peak power figure is actually a little low for a boosted 2.0-liter (likely due to its mainstream role), the engine excels in the midrange, with peak torque of 270 pound-feet at 2,700 rpm. An overboost function unique to this application plumps out the midrange another eight percent for up to 15 seconds. With this much torque channeled entirely through the front wheels, the question isn’t whether there’s torque steer, but how much. Well, there’s enough to mildly tug the steering wheel this way and that during hard acceleration, but not nearly enough that you have to fight to keep the car on your desired line. Hard shifts from first to second also effect a little wheel hop. The shifter and clutch for the mandatory six-speed manual transmission aren’t the best–you’ll read no rifle bolt analogies here–but they commit no notable sins.

There’s enough thrust that hard acceleration provides thrills despite the wet blanket of refinement and the family sedan-like 3,223-pound curb weight. But Ford offers the Mustang for those seeking straight line kicks. The Focus ST is really about handling. Even the regular Focus tackles curvy roads with aplomb. For the ST, Ford has added a variable-ratio steering rack, lowered the suspension a centimeter, firmed up the springs and dampers, totally revised the rear stabilizer bar, enhanced the suspension electronics, and fitted Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric three-season tires (in the same 235/40R18 size also offered on the Titanium). Thanks to these upgrades, the hatch’s handling goes from surprisingly good to amazing. The feel is much the same, with the body control of a much more expensive car, just taken up another couple notches. Between the tires’ extremely high limits, the revised suspension hardware, and the electronic torque vectoring, you’ll have to push the car harder than I was willing to push it on public roads to encounter more than a hint of understeer. On the other hand, lift off the gas at corner entry and the rear end slides outward enough to help the car through the turn (but not so much as to be scary). The Focus ST’s steering doesn’t provide nuanced feedback, partly because it uses an electric power steering system and partly because the tires simply aren’t slipping much. But thanks to its tuning and variable-ratio rack this system manages to feel both very solid on center and very responsive when the wheel is turned.

A bevy of electronic controls supplement the suspension hardware. Unlike in the regular Focus, the stability control can be switched to a sport mode or disabled entirely. As with any well-designed front-wheel-drive chassis, it’s not much needed. Ultimately, at some point I failed to reach, the front tires are going to scrub, and then backing off the throttle will safely reduce speed. When the stability control is disabled, curve control (which modulates the throttle and brakes to maintain a safe speed and line through turns) is also disabled. Curve control arguably doesn’t belong in the ST to begin with, but even when enabled it’s less of a nuisance than in models more likely to need it. Torque vectoring, which modulates the brakes to counteract understeer, is never disabled. As noted above, it’s quite successful in its mission. But it’s not entirely transparent. You can feel the brakes at work, forcing the chassis to take a different line than it inherently would. As a result, the Focus ST’s handling doesn’t feel entirely natural, and your control of the car seems less direct. Cars with balanced weight distributions retain an advantage here.

Some people find the ride of the regular Focus to be overly firm, but I find it nearly perfect, with precisely damped body motions over imperfect pavement. Despite its firmer suspension, the Focus ST didn’t seem to ride significantly worse than the regular Focus. I say “seem,” because the route prescribed by Ford didn’t contain any awful roads. During my first mile in the driver’s seat I thought the ride felt a bit busy, with some small sharp reactions, but this thought never entered my mind in the hours that followed. Even based on this limited experience, the Focus ST’s ride is clearly much more livable than that of a truly hardcore machine like the Evo, or even a VW Jetta GLI, Scion FR-S, or Genesis Coupe R-Spec. On top of this, noise levels from all three sources (wind, road, engine) are so low when cruising that the Focus ST feels like it’s traveling 20, even 30 mph below its actual velocity.

The sticker price on a regular Focus can exceed $27,000. So how could Ford possibly add a turbocharged engine, sport suspension, and Recaro seats without pricing the car out of reach? Well, they have. Run a Focus Titanium and a Focus ST through TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool (with both loaded up to make their content as similar as possible), and you’ll find that the latter’s unique features only add about $2,100, a shockingly small amount given what you get in return.

Consequently, the Ford Focus ST starts at a very reasonable $24,495. For the Recaros in partial leather, Sony premium audio, and the MyFord Touch interface, add the $2,385 ST2 Package. Nav adds another $795, a sunroof (not on the tested car) another $895. The “tangerine scream” tri-coat paint on the tested car (more orange and dynamic in person than it appears in these photos) costs $495. Don’t believe in paying extra for paint? The “performance blue” resembles my favorite shade on the 2002-2005 Focus SVT.

Compared to the ST2, a MazdaSpeed3 is $1,885 less before adjusting for feature differences and about $1,100 less afterwards. The Mazda provides a somewhat more visceral driving experience but looks and feels like a far less expensive car. A Volkswagen GTI costs about the same as a similarly-equipped Focus ST, but doesn’t perform or handle nearly as well. Very much comparing an apple with an orange, the rawer, far less livable, and far less practical—but rear-wheel-drive and inherently balanced—Scion FR-S costs $460 more before adjusting for feature differences and about $2,300 more afterwards.

You can buy a more thrilling car than the Focus ST. You can also buy a more stylish car, a smoother car, or a more practical car. But if you’re seeking style, performance, handling, refinement, and everyday practicality all in same car, the Focus ST hatchback isn’t approached by anything else under $30,000 (as long as the wagon isn’t offered west of the Atlantic) and it isn’t often matched above this level. The stratospheric prices of Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes have never seemed less justified. If (like me) you’ve been thinking that the Focus ST might be the car for you, it is.

Ford provided insured, fueled cars along with lunch at a media event.

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Focus ST front, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Focus ST front quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Focus ST side, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Focus ST rear quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Focus ST performance blue, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Focus ST interior, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Focus ST instrument panel, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Focus ST seats, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Focus ST view forward, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Focus ST rear seat, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Focus ST cargo area, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Focus ST engine, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Focus ST engine undressed, picture courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 127
Toyota Engineer Reveals Plans For More Sports Cars Tue, 09 Oct 2012 16:08:37 +0000

No, this isn’t another lame rumor-mongering post based on idle speculation; Toyota’s own Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer for the 86, confirmed to Top Gear that two more sports cars are in the pipeline.

According to Tada, the two new products will book-end the 86 at both the lower and higher priced segments.

“The first is more mass-market and cheaper than the 86,” Tada revealed. “And the third is more upmarket than the 86.”

Tada says that he is still “conceptualizing” the cars, which is considered the start of a five year process. The only detail that can be confirmed is that the larger car apparently won’t be a hybrid.

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Ur-Turn: A Metalhead Responds To The Scion Piece Mon, 08 Oct 2012 15:43:35 +0000

TTAC Reader Richard responds to Derek’s Scion Metalhead Marketing piece from the perspective of a car lover and metal fan

” ‘Entrails ripped from a virgin’s c**t,’ ” I thought to myself.  Toyota wants to play patron to a musical genre that has spawned songs like ‘Entrails Ripped from a Virgin’s C**t’ and ‘Christraping Black Metal.’ What are they thinking?”

My disbelief at Scion AV’s announcement echoed across heavy metal fandom. If there’s such a thing as collective cognitive dissonance, Scion AV caused it. Nobody could believe that Toyota was going to do this. What did heavy metal have to do with selling cars? And why would Toyota risk its stodgy and safe image on promoting itself via heavy metal, even if done through the ‘edgy’ and ‘youth-oriented’ Scion brand?

Toyota’s decision was and is questionable in four ways. First up: return on investment, if such a thing is calculable in this sort of endeavor. Not only was Toyota going to promote itself by sponsoring heavy metal concerts and EP length recordings, but it was going subterranean with its efforts. For mainstream listeners, metal consists of the four biggest bands, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Judas Priest, plus whatever’s big at the moment. In the 90s and early 2000s, that would’ve been bands like Pantera, Tool, and nu-metal dreck like KoRn and Limp Bizkit. Today it would be bands like Lamb of God and Mastodon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if TTAC’s readership hasn’t heard of them. Toyota/Scion AV charged right past all of those commercially viable bands and straight into the underground.

Not to the deepest portions of the underground, though. Not to the boutique labels that release 666 hand numbered copies of an album on vinyl, but deep enough to make someone like me question their wisdom. Deep enough to make me wonder how they could ever justify their return on investment.

As of 10/07/12, here are the listener counts for some big name metal bands:

Iron Maiden: 1,707,577 listeners and 117,145,590 listens
Metallica: 2,222,074 listeners and 200,177,496 listens
KoRn: 2,144,093 listeners and 95,712,085 listens
Black Sabbath: 1,887,855 listeners and 59,002,836 listens

Some bands that are currently on major labels:

Mastodon: 595,766 listeners and 27,849,836 listens
Opeth: 649,761 listeners and 54,861,149 listens
Lamb of God: 836,366 listeners and 35,661,176 listens

…and the listener counts for 7 of the bands that Scion has sponsored on tour and/or via free EP releases:

Enslaved: 134,715 listeners and 6,138,855 listens
Revocation: 23,991 listeners and 713,002 listens
Immolation: 65,737 listeners and 2,725,147 listens
Melvins: 263,004 listeners and 9,104,309 listens
Wolves in the Throne Room: 80,512 listeners and 2,422,323 listens
Nachtmystium: 41,598 listeners and 1,666,147 listens
Pallbearer: 7,362 listeners and 105,479 listens

There’s a good reason why the playcounts for the Scion AV bands are so relatively low, and it’s not the quality of the music. Toyota did not choose a musically accessible genre to sponsor. Death metal variously presents the listener with a 200+ bpm assault, specialized drumming techniques, sweep-picking, and dozens of parts per song, or alternatively, sludgy and murky riffs delivered at a zombie’s lurch. Black metal is based around heavily distorted guitars tremolo strummed as quickly as possible, creating a hypnotic sheet of white noise. Doom metal moves like a zombie without legs. Across subgenres, extreme metal’s vocals are mostly performed using the false cords in the throat, so the result is a variety of screams, shrieks, grunts, and roars. All of this stuff is impenetrable and repulsive to most mainstream listeners.

Tour attendance is commensurate with those counts. Toyota also chose not to sponsor big metal package tours like Summer Slaughter or Ozzfest. Scion AV is true niche marketing.

Second, there’s the potential for damage to Toyota’s reputation. Underground metal’s lyrics are as extreme as the music. Satanism, gore, depictions of violence, misogyny, misanthropy, anti-religious screeds, the occult, and pagan religions are common lyrical topics. The musicians can be as extreme as the music. Deicide’s frontman has branded his forehead with an upside down cross for years. Black metal has a history of racism, murder, church burnings, suicide, and possibly cannibalism. (Note: the ‘black’ refers to the music’s tone, not the skin color of the musicians.)

Toyota was and is attempting to sell average American cars with the musical equivalent of Formula 1 racers, Top Fuel Dragsters, and primered diesel Chevettes. Not only that, but they are running the risk that Joe Sixpack and Jane Housewife discover that Scion is promoting music that runs counter to everything they believe in. Joe and Jane might not know enough or care enough to do the research to find out that Toyota sponsors evil music through Scion AV, but that doesn’t matter. Give the Christian Right or PC Left two minutes on the Internet, and they’ll suss it out and spread the word. This has happened before. Does anybody remember Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Council? Or the time Judas Priest were sued for backmasking suicidal messages, or when Slayer was sued for causing their fans to commit ritual “Satanic” murders?

The third and fourth questionable aspects of the Scion AV endeavor are the customer base that Toyota is attempting to reach. While there are plenty of old-timer metalheads who were there in the 70s and 80s, there are many, many more metalheads who are in their mid 30s or 20s. I’m 29, and thus at the beginning of the Gen Y/Why generation. If you’ve paid attention to the news, we are being hit hard by unemployment and decreasing wages. We’re saddled with monster student loans and massive national debt. I won’t belabor you with further details.

Frankly, metalheads are nerds. Most of us Gen Y types barely have money for our chosen hobby. Cars? Who gives a shit! We’ve chosen an expensive hobby, one that’s comparable in nerd factor and financial drain to…being a car nerd.

One thing Toyota got right: metalheads, like most people, treat cars as appliances. I’m an exception; I know one other metalhead who cares about cars. My goofy pen-name is drawn from an obscure metal song about cars, I drive a Cobalt SS (turbo and LSD, natch), and I used to own a GTO Monaro (LS2 ftw). I’m doing better than many Gen Y’ers in that I have a stable job with career prospects and high demand from Fortune 500 companies. I can afford to sock money away and keep the Cobalt happy and fed and still drop a few hundred dollars a month on heavy metal crap. If push came to shove though, I’d sell the Cobalt and find something used, cheap, reliable, and with a stick so that I could keep buying metal stuff. I am not going to miss out on limited print run CDs from my favorite labels. In that, I’m one with the metalhead crowd.

Finally, assuming that metalheads had money for cars or particularly cared about them, there’s the risk that Scion’s sponsorship will (or has) backfired on Toyota. Underground metal is staunchly independent. The lack of money circulating through the genre’s marketplace means that bands and record labels are fiercely DIY. We picked up on 80s punk and hardcore’s anti-mainstream, anti-success attitude. We’re opposed to plays for commercial or mainstream acceptance. We’ll turn harder than Schumaker’s Ferrari when a band tries to sell out. We don’t need Scion’s money. Some of us don’t want it.

We value our freedom of speech as well, allowing Cannibal Corpse to lyrically torture women and Arghoslent to write racist horseshit like “Quelling the Simian Surge.”

Like any culture or group, we need enemies. We need an Other. We’ve had many: punk rock and hardcore, posers, hair metal, nu-metal, sell-outs, grunge/alternative rock, and carpetbagging hipster thieves. The music industry itself.

Add those factors, anti-commerce, pro-freedom of speech, and oppositional attitudes, and Scion’s courting disaster. The slightest misstep, and we’ll perceive them as exploiting us, censoring us, or working against us. Even if they get things right, we might just take their gifts and ignore their cars anyway.

You don’t need me to say this, but it bears repeating: corporations would sacrifice babies if made them cool to consumers. Precious few companies ever become cool. I don’t think any company has ever advertised its way into being cool.

So far, Scion hasn’t screwed themselves over, but they haven’t achieved any immediately obvious success either. To put it bluntly, whoever’s running the operation knows their shit and did their research. They’ve sponsored respectable first-tier underground bands. They haven’t overdone it, and they haven’t censored anybody. Their concerts have been professional and well run. They’ve treated the bands and fans better than they would usually be treated within the confines of the metal industry: the tickets are cheap or free, the bands get paid on time and per contract, and the EPs are completely and totally free for download. Because the bands that Scion chose aren’t all that objectionable* in relative terms, nobody’s been censored other than perhaps a written or unwritten understanding that they don’t publicly slag Scion or Toyota. The Scion branded merch is free and reportedly both quality and not overdone. The socks in particular are apparently quite popular.

Nevertheless, there’s the success and return on investment issue. Again, I’ve seen almost no evidence that Scion’s campaign is working. I’ve heard through the grapevine that a number of band members are quite grateful and have reciprocated by purchasing vehicles. That’s not Scion’s goal, because touring bands have no money and the bulk of the metal customer base are mere fans like me. This past summer, I attended Maryland Deathfest, which is the largest and best extreme metal fest in America. I estimate that over 3,000 people attended it. I made a point of walking the parking lot. There were plenty of older Toyotas and a few newer ones. There were no Scions.

However, this is Toyota we’re talking about. Toyota plays the long game; like the Soviet Union, they’ve got 5 year plans and they stick to them, except that the plans actually work. Toyota is marketing to a niche, but it’s cheap marketing. Those EPs can’t have cost more than $25k each to record and release each, and in the metal underworld, the publicity takes care of itself. A couple of thousand dollars per tour date in a band’s coffers is a rounding error in Toyota’s annual advertising budget. In exchange, Scion gets to plaster their logo on artwork, merch, and banners. People like me blog about it. I’d be shocked if Scion AV’s total cost to Toyota is more than a million dollars a year. It’s also worth mentioning that Scion AV is targeting genres other than metal as well.

If we judge Scion AV as a long-term marketing campaign, than I’ve already seen an example of it succeeding. One of my fellow metal bloggers recently purchased a Corolla S instead of a Civic or Focus. He bought the car because it met his needs and because Toyota gave him the best deal. However, he admitted that he remembered Scion AV’s sponsorship and how it treated us.

That’s what Toyota is banking on. They know that most of us aren’t filthy, drugged up, unemployable morons. They know that one day we’ll need cars. And when that time comes, we might remember that free Enslaved EP and that cheap Pallbearer tour date in New York City, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll reciprocate.

Choosing metal was astute in a more subtle way than just the cheapness of the sponsorships, because metalheads are loyal consumers. We’ll stick with a band even through crap album after crap album. We’ll welcome them back after a stylistic misstep. We’ll attend tours and put up with the weak songs just to hear the hits, and we’ll drive or fly cross country to do it. When was the last time you bought every CD that a record company released? We know individual record labels’ release schedules, and we buy every album based on label recognition alone.

Companies not named Apple would, again, sacrifice babies for this kind of loyalty. It’s feasible that if we buy a Toyota and it doesn’t suck, we’ll be back in 5 to 10 years to buy another, and another, and another. Of course, that’s true of other consumers as well.

I wrote this as a partial response to Derek’s recent piece regarding Scion AV, which comes at least two years after Scion AV started supporting metal. The overall message of Derek’s post was that Scion AV supporting metal is a waste and a mistake. I’m not convinced that it will be a waste or a mistake, especially if Scion AV keeps going and ramps up their efforts to full albums and additional tours. Derek linked to an AdWeek article, and paraphrasing it, Scion’s sales manager claims that Scion’s advertising sells cars and that metalheads buy cars in quantity enough to justify the marketing. I have no idea how Toyota will back up that determination with data, now or ever. At current funding and effort levels, I think Scion AV will turn out to be a wash for Toyota. Then again, I still think they’d do better to sponsor bigger acts and package tours. It’d cost more money, but it would reach a much, much larger audience.

You could also argue that targeting underground metal, a subculture that is brand apathetic as it pertains to cars, is genius. Being first does count for something.

As previously mentioned, Toyota and Scion took a risk associating themselves with underground metal. If certain elements from either side of political spectrum, especially on the Republican side, decide to pay attention, this could all backfire badly on Toyota. Chevy, Ford, Home Depot, and Target have all been boycotted for advertising to the LBGT community or for being LBGT friendly. I’m sure that in the Religious Right’s eyes, metalheads fall at or below the LBGT community in terms of undesirability.

Derek also focused on one of the Scion sales manager’s (Yoshizu) quotes as being particularly bullshitty:

“[A metal fan is] not necessarily trying to be a trendsetter, but more of a thought leader. They’re really into journalism. Their blogs are like 2,000 words [each].”

and also:

“The person I’m now targeting is more inclusive about their community.”

Derek was right about one thing: this is a PR hack’s flack. I know what the Scion dude is saying, though. He’s talking about me and a lot of metal fans that I know, the bloggers especially. We pride ourselves on our taste in music and sharing bands that we think are good. Every time I review a band’s album, I’m bring that band more fans. I’m supporting my bands with more than just my dollars. I don’t know about “trendsetting” or “thought leading,” from I am definitely free publicity and I am definitely inclusive about my community. Yoshizu was right about metalheads talking about Scion AV tours and releases.

Yoshizu’s on a roll:

“They actually appreciate the corporate contribution[.]”

As they say on these internets: +1. I don’t know for a fact whether Toyota’s investment in my preferred musical genre is paying off for the company. None of the fans do. It doesn’t matter. Most of us are happy to benefit from Toyota’s largesse. I certainly am. I won’t start objecting until I learn that Toyota is actually paying bands a middle class salary or dropping huge wads of cash in their pockets.

In the meantime, keep buying Toyota products, Scions in particular. I suspect that your dollars are throwing my bands’ concerts and recording my bands’ music. Thanks for reading, and thanks for paying. I’ll think of TTAC’s commenters and throw some horns on your behalf the next time I see a show.

N.B. One band, Nachtmystium, had their Scion AV sponsorship pulled due to allegations of racism and racist beliefs. The band claims that they are not racist.

Richard Street-Jammer has been a metalhead for over a decade. He makes dumb jokes, car metaphors, and rambles incoherently about bands older than he is at He wishes he hadn’t chosen such a dopey but appropriate pen name.

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EXCLUSIVE – Christ Descends From The Heavens: Paris 2012 Live Shots Thu, 27 Sep 2012 12:11:03 +0000

Oh, Happy Days! The Messianic Age is upon us. God so loved the world that he sent his only son to do battle with the Porsche Cayman R in an epic shootout organized by an over-the-hill Australian journalist. At least this one has a bunch of crap from TRD on it.

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Review: 2013 Scion FR-S Tue, 11 Sep 2012 14:00:21 +0000 We’ve already looked at the FR-S, but I came of car-driving age just minutes before the heyday of the Toyota AE86 and, by God, I’m going to write about any car that claims to be an homage to the car that stands as the ’55 Chevy of Japan. So, I got on the horn with Toyota PR: “Hey, Moe, it’s Murilee Martin. Yeah, that Murilee Martin. Listen, I’m heading out to the East Bay next weekend and I need something that won’t embarrass me when I need to out-donut the Glasshouse Caprices at the sideshows in Oakland, know what I’m saying? Sure, the FR-S sounds good!”
Actually, given that automotive PR guys probably assume that car writers treat their cars like gorillas all jacked up on adrenachrome-and-Douglas Fir liqueur cocktails, I probably could have said exactly those words and it wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows. In reality, though, I was coming out to California to visit family and spend a day tailgating before an Oakland Athletics game. I picked up the car at the Oakland Airport and was parked next to the Faster Farms 1966 Plymouth Belvedere race car and eating barbecued meat products about five minutes later.
Since the airport and the ballpark are about two miles from each other, I didn’t get much chance to do any real driving right away. However, I did do a real-world trunk-capacity test right away, and learned that you can fit two good-sized suitcases with no hassle. The back seat provides additional cargo space; you won’t be putting any passengers back there, but we’ll return to that subject a bit later.
So, I had about five hours of tailgating time to examine the details of the car and discuss them with my super-geeked-out car-expert friends. I’ve driven, ridden in, and wrenched on quite a few AE86s, and this car looks nothing whatsoever like the Hachi-roku. This is good, because there’s something depressing about car companies exhuming the long-dead corpses of their past and using them to hawk modern machinery.
Once you start looking at the details, you’ll find many more cues that point to Subaru rather than Toyota. The boxer-4 engine, of course, is straight-up Subaru.
The build tag shows that the car was built by Fuji Heavy Industries, the interior materials feel much more Subaru-ish than Toyota-esque, and the inner fenders are stamped SUBARU.
On that subject, everybody, including me, refers to this car as a Toyota, which is as good an indication as any that the Scion brand hasn’t sunk deep roots in the car-buying public’s consciousness.
Here’s a little detail that says a lot about the philosophical differences between German, Japanese, and American automotive engineers. My friend Shawn, of Junkyard Build Quality Challenge fame, pointed out this anti-honk box attached to the air cleaner housing. Anti-honk boxes (or whatever the technical term is— anti-resonance chamber?) change the volume of the engine’s air-intake tract so as to avoid unpleasant audio resonance at certain engine speeds and loads. The Detroit carmakers don’t really care if your sub-$30k car’s engine makes a noise like a seasick rhinoceros sometimes— just shoot some more insulation on the firewall, problem solved! German engineers can’t tolerate the idea of engine honk, so they redesign the entire intake system if necessary. Toyota and Subaru, however, looked at their budget for this car, calculated the cost of modifying the parts-bin air cleaner (which was probably taken off the Impreza or Corolla or whatever high-production-level part came closest to fitting), and opted for the addition of a simple anti-honk box. I’d planned on stuffing a sock into the anti-honk box’s inlet and seeing how bad the honk really was, but ran out of time.
I always like to nose around under the hood of a new car, to get a sense of what corners were cut. The electrical connectors looked to be of pretty high quality— both Subaru and Toyota have always been good about not pinching yen too ruthlessly in that department— but I noticed a few things that you wouldn’t expect to see on even the cheapest Toyota. For example, these plastic headlight-assembly brackets. A few years of underhood heat will make them fragile, and then someone leaning over the hood will put a knee into the headlight and snap the brackets. This is the sort of thing you expect from Chrysler, circa 1991, not Toyota or Subaru.
Likewise, who uses these Manny, Moe, and Jack-grade, 1952-technology hose clamps nowadays?
My first real complaint about the FR-S came up when I decided to crank up some Ant Banks on the sound system, for the enjoyment of my tailgating companions. This is the 21st century, you can buy full-featured MP3 players direct from China for, like, $6.59, and there’s really no excuse for a factory stereo with alleged iPod interface to be such a pain in the ass to navigate.
Then there’s the quality of the sound system itself; the demographic most likely to buy this car is going to insist on some serious boom, and the standard 300-watt Panasonic system delivers less bass than the junkyard setup I stuffed into my ’92 Civic for a total investment of 25 bucks. Definitely not Tigra and Bunny- approved. I had to stick with no-thud-required stuff (e.g., the Dead Kennedys) for the soundtrack of my East Bay visit.
The day after the A’s tailgate party, I decided to take the FR-S on a tour of all my favorite East Bay wrecking yards (you can see the results in the most recent Junkyard Find posts). Junkyards are almost always in areas with terribly potholed roads, and I learned right away that you don’t want to set the car in the stiff “VSC Sport” mode on such roads. I needed a junkyard taco-truck meal just to settle my stomach after getting a beating that felt like sitting in a trash can being dragged over railroad ties.
Even normal highway driving is pretty miserable when in Sport mode, and the car hangs onto the pavement far beyond my admittedly meager driving abilities when taking freeway interchanges at fun speeds anyway, even with all the stability- and traction-control nannies in full effect. The ride is plenty firm when in non-sport mode, but it’s like a comfy Barcalounger next to the bouncy, noisy original AE86. The FR-S would make a completely non-punitive commuter, unless your idea of commuting comfort was derived from the 1974 Cadillac Sedan DeVille.
Another minor quibble that would be a bigger deal if I were driving this car in the Ivy Mike-level bright sun of Denver: the windshield reflections off the reflective dashboard surface. I thought the car companies solved this problem 15 years ago.
Right, so what’s this thing like to drive? It took me a while to figure it out, but after a few hours of horsing around in empty industrial areas of East Oakland I realized that the FR-S isn’t an homage to the original AE86. It’s an homage to the heavily modified drifter/tuner AE86s of the last decade.
The original Corolla GT-S (or Sprinter Trueno, or whatever you want to call it) was a spindly, 2,200-pound econobox of simple construction that was fitted with a pretty-good-for-the-mid-80s 112-horsepower L4 engine. Adding a bunch of power— which, of course, just about every AE86 owner has done by now— turns the car into a real handful, a parts-busting beast that’s eager to wrap itself around the nearest utility pole.
So, the 2,700-pound, 200-horsepower FR-S is to the drifter AE86 as the SRT8 Challenger is to the tunnel-rammed-440-equipped street-racer Challenger of the early 1970s. Just as the new Challenger turns once-difficult burnouts, convenience-store-parking-lot donuts, and 12-second quarter-mile passes into accomplishments that any idiot can pull off with almost no practice, so does the FR-S put all the dorifto moves of Initial D into the grasp of just about any schlub. You want to wow the kids in the mall parking lot with a perfect 180-degree E-brake turn on your first attempt? The FR-S will oblige. In fact, this car makes the previous E-Brake Turn Champion of the World (a rented Chevy Cobalt in a badly paved racetrack paddock) seem uncontrollable by comparison.
The same goes for moves that require you to blow away the rear tires and slide around like an idiot. Turn off the traction control, cock the wheel a bit, get on the gas, and you’ll be drifting around like some dude who killed a dozen Nissan 240SXs as the price for learning his skills.
My prediction: When these cars depreciate enough to put them within reach of the 16-to-22-year-old crowd, say ten years from now, look out! We’re going to see FR-Ss upside-down, on fire, and/or T-boned-into signposts wherever teenagers gather.
For the grownups who don’t care much about Japanese street-racing fads, the FR-S will make a pretty good weekday commuter/weekend autocross car. I didn’t have as much fun driving it as I did with the Mazda RX-8 (the Mazda feels lighter and less like a drag racer), but the FR-S manages to get nearly double the fuel-economy of the Wankel-powered machine, while being several orders of magnitude better-looking. If you want the opinion of Jack “The Ohio Player” Baruth, who is capable of going quickly around a race track in most un-car-journo-ish fashion, on the FR-S’s racetrack prowess, go here.
Something felt strangely familiar about the FR-S as I drove it from junkyard to junkyard, and then it hit me: the stiff, super-short-throw shifter and gargly boxer engine sound might as well have been swapped directly from my wife’s ’04 Subaru Outback. Once again, the FR-S feels more like a Fuji Heavy Industries product than a Toyota product.
I approve of the semi-old-timey-looking instrument cluster, though the weirdly centered speedometer is more or less useless (there’s a digital speed display inside the tach).
The racy-style front seats are great for hurling the car through tight turns and they’re quite comfortable in spite of the goofy-looking thick red stitching; more to the point, they look like the kind of aftermarket component that generations of Hachi-roku owners have bolted into their cars.
The sill plates have this puzzling polka-dot motif, which is carried over to the pedals.
The back seat, well, isn’t. My 12-year-old niece, who’s about 4′ 8″ tall and skinny, couldn’t find a way to sit comfortably in the back of the FR-S. The rear seat area should work well for grocery bags, though, and you can use the seat belts to keep the bags from sliding around as you execute a psychotic power-slide all the way across the Safeway parking lot.
The HVAC controls are uncomplicated, which is good, but the control mechanisms feel crappier than what I’m used to on Toyota cars.
While on my tour of the industrial East Bay, I happened upon this parked mid-80s Cressida. Note the size similarity between the roomy luxury car and the snug sporty car. Also note that the Cressida is sittin’ on some bullshit compared to the Scion.
The FR-S is still small when parked next to a ’66 Belvedere. My verdict on the FR-S: I could drive this thing every day and be very happy with it, but I’d expect Subaru reliability instead of the (historically superior) Toyota version. At $24,997 as tested, the FR-S has a pretty good bang-for-buck ratio… but I’d also take a long look at the similarly priced Miata before I bought one.

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Hedonist vs Frugalist: 2012 Scion FR-S (Street Edition) Sat, 18 Aug 2012 13:00:25 +0000

There is a well traveled myth in the animal kingdom when it comes to dogs.

Seven years = One human year. In reality, dogs will often reach their version of adulthood within the first year to two years of their life.

The same is true with certain sports cars.

The Mazda Miata quickly became a car of legend within the first two years of its release. The first Ford Mustang did so well, that Ford managed to build over a million units in the first 18 months alone.

On a far smaller scale, the AC Cobra, Ferrari 250 GTO, and Jaguar E-Type may never be a common sight in the flesh. But they have adorned millions of posters and magazine covers, and established a benchmark of what sports cars represent in the eyes of auto enthusiasts.

The Scion FR-S may not ever come near these heights of popularity. However, it will help redefine the current image of a sports car as some testerone poisoned icon that tries to invoke power and muscle above all else.

Hedonist: This car reminds me of a well-designed suit; smooth, svelte, with an eye towards the conservative side of design. It’s not meant to draw attention in a brutally obvious way like most other sports cars of today.

There is no bling. No steroid ridden look to the front fascia, and as a result, it doesn’t get the eyeballs of anyone other than the enthusiast.

Frugalist: I consider that a good thing. There seems to be a minimal level of ostentation to the outside that blends well with the extreme focus on functionality and sport with the interior. The driver’s window lowers itself about a half inch when you grab the door handle and you see…

Hard plastics are kept to the simple functional aspects of the dashboard along with the precious few buttons that adorn it.

The armrests on the door panel are well padded and well stitched. Speaking of which…

You better like the color red when it comes to all the stitching on the door panels, steering wheel and seats. If not, then just enjoy the road ahead.

Hedonist: I rarely stopped smiling for the first thirty minutes I had this car on the road. There is a linearity to the handling, the acceleration and the overall design that makes the FR-S a fun daily driver.

For perhaps 25% of the population.

If you are in a part of the world with rough roads. If noise is not your thing. If you have even a slight orientation towards driving isolation, don’t buy this car. The Scion FR-S is a noisy, hard riding vehicle that is nearly as unforgiving as a first generation aluminum bodied Honda Insight.

But if you live in an area where the roads are relatively smooth. If driving involvement to you is not so much about speed as it is about handling and finding that quick little spurt of joy in a humdrum commute, this car should be right at the top of the list.


Frugalist: 34.5 mpg overall and 37 miles per gallon on the highway. That is what I averaged in a long commute through metro-Atlanta where I spent about 20% of my time stuck in various traffic jams and construction backups. The Scion seems to take an almost perverse pleasure for those drivers who feather the pedal when the road ahead is chock full of cars.

There is one down side, or good virtue, if you want to look at it through the economics of long-term driving.

When you’re not in an enjoyable environment, the Scion will lock in 6th gear at around 37 mph and keep the car moving without the feel of a heavy pedal or lag in the acceleration. This makes the FR-S a far easier and economical vehicle to drive on a daily basis than most other sports car of today.

Hedonist: But where it excels is in the country. If you’re one of those folks who gets to enjoy endless winding one lane roads in your commute, the Scion FR-S will represent a sweet spot of satisfaction well worth the $26,000 MSRP. Precise real world handling devoid of nervousness. Solid mid-range torque. Exceptional fuel economy. In real world driving it’s all there.

Frugalist: Most sports car enthusiasts will never spend any time in a race track. Even the ones who would like to have that experience simply have too many other things going on with their life. The real world of driving is where a Scion FR-S can outshine a heavier and more powerful sports car because it never feels ponderous or laborious while handling the misfortunes of traffic.

Hedonist: Lightness has its virtues. A 2700 to 2800 pound drivetrain engineered with a focus on handling and balance is a far better companion for most daily drivers than a high revving glorified go-kart or an overwight muscle car.

Even the noise levels and patterns of acceleration for the FR-S are designed for you to find a comfortable limit, and enjoy it. Many sports cars encourage stupid behavior on the open road. This Scion is the exact antithesis of a stupid sports car. The set of tools that it provides you; a 2.0 Liter 200 horsepower engine devoid of turbo boost or lag, and a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, is a solid fit for the winding road.

There was one other surprise underneath this car.

It’s maintenance friendly. Oil changes are easy to do. All the fluids and nearly all the basic maintenance procedures should be easy to perform. Unlike most other cars of the modern day, the Scion FR-S seems to take pride in letting the owner get to know the vehicle and be directly involved with its long-term care.


Hedonist: There are a slew of competitors to the Scion FR-S. The Fiat Abarth is a bit lighter, smaller, even more go kart like, and has the thrill of turbo boost. But the interior and packaging are not up to the same standards as the FR-S.

The Ford Mustang V6 is an excellent alrternative consideration if you want more power and plenty of fun. But the spirit of that car is from a different age and the greater curb weight makes it a better fit for those seeking an American styled daily driver. The Camaro and Challenger have nearly the same virtues of the Mustang. But all three are hard to find well equipped in this price range.

Then you have a slew of four door models and European hatchbacks. The upcoming Ford Focus ST, the VW GTI, the Mazda 3i and Mazdaspeed 3, the Hyundai Genesis coupe, the Mini Cooper S. Even the Subaru WRX and FR-S cloned BRZ will fight the Scion FR-S for the souls and pocketbooks of American sports car enthusiasts.

The competition is exceptional (let’s not forget the Mazda MX-5 as well). Overall, Toyota has performed an exceptional job as well. If you are in the market for a $25,000 to $28,000 sports car, test drive one.

It will be time well spent.

Note: Toyota provided gas, insurance, and the Scion FR-S pictured for a full week. 


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Off-Track Review: 2013 Scion FR-S Mon, 13 Aug 2012 20:00:02 +0000  

[Editor's note: TTAC does not review cars, TTAC reviewers do. The reviews can be as different as the reviewers are, and they voice their opinions independently. Due to the high interest the FR-S has received, we put a whole squad of TTAC reviewers into the car, and we are not done yet.]

Alex’s initial look at the pre-production Scion FR-S had a few feathers getting ruffled in the comments section. Then came Derek’s discussion of the hype surrounding the car and his own disappointing drive, and even more feathers were bent askew. Now Jack’s had a go at dissecting the FR-S on the track (his natural environment, if not the car’s), and it’s basically been like firing chickens into a snow-blower.

So, while the little Toyobaru sits in the middle of crossfire of angry verbiage that is like, so totally not what usually happens around here, I’ll belly up to the bar. We’ve had the launch event, we’ve had the track comparo; I had the FR-S for a week to evaluate it as a daily-driver, and one thing right off the bat:

“Make no mistake; it’s a good car.” -Derek Kreindler
“First things first: your humble author kind of loves the FR-S.” -Jack Baruth

Unlike my colleagues, I’d like to avoid the mistake of simply stating that I like the car in the midst of a discussion of its foibles and short-comings. This erroneous method seems to have resulted in much furor including accusations that TTAC is anti-FR-S – we’re not.

Instead, I place my overall conclusion right at the beginning, in 72-point font so you can’t possibly miss it. This is a good car, and I liked it…


Initial Thoughts:
Five minutes or fifty feet: that’s all it takes to fall head-over-heels for the MX-5. I loved Mazda’s little red roadster so much I went straight to craigslist and starting hunting for used ones, temporarily forgetting that shopping for drop-tops shouldn’t be a priority when your wife is 38 weeks pregnant. Oops.

Not so with the FR-S. Those of you who’ve been able to snag a test-drive or a spin in a friend’s new purchase and walked away feeling fairly disappointed: you aren’t alone. My first reaction upon winding out the 2.0L boxer was, to paraphrase Katie Holmes on her wedding night, “Is that all?”

The double torque peak – and in-between crater – makes the FR-S a bit weird to drive in stop-and go. It’s got decent off the line punch, but then you’re revving through a wasteland with little to encourage you forward. Things pick up a bit towards redline, but the 6-7/10ths mid-range (where the MX-5 is such a joy) is lacking something.

What’s more, I couldn’t really fall for the engine note either. It was loud and somewhat tasteless, like – oh, to pick an example at random: this. Frankly, the whole first five minutes was a bit of a let-down. But I persevered.

Inner Space:
Things that do work well? The seats are fantastic. The interior is extremely cheap, but it’s also spartan and uncluttered: no buttons on the steering wheel to accidentally change radio-stations during an apex.

The sizing feels right, not quite as little-car chuckable as the roly-poly MX-5, but low and light, like an early Integra or 240SX. What’s more, if you don’t fit in a MX-5, you’ll likely fit in this car – it’s spacious enough, and the roof has bulges high enough to accommodate a helmet.

Forward visibility is pretty good, beltlines are low, and rear visibility can be perfectly ok if you set your mirrors correctly and trust in the shortness of your car. And then there are those kid-size back-seats: perfect for me you’d think, with a little hellion on the way.

Family Values:
Not even close. First, hoisting a pregnant lady in and out of the passenger’s seat isn’t winning you any purchasing points. Second, rear-facing child seats are all the size of Volkswagen Beetles these days: cramming one behind the passenger’s seat is going to require storing your spouse in the glovebox. Booster seats will be ok, but this is not necessarily an ideal young-family second car in the early stages of child-rearing.

Tofu Delivery Rating:
As a grocery-getter, the FR-S does fine. It’s got a trunk, not a hatchback for chassis-stiffness reasons, and at just seven cubic feet, you’d better be good at Tetris. For larger objects, the seats do fold down; obviously the marketing department is touting its effectiveness at loading up a set of race tires and rims for the track.

Unfortunately, there’s a height issue. Taking back the empties on a Thursday left me with puzzle I never had to face with my WRX: I couldn’t get the truck closed. Some careful rearranging did the trick, but there’s certainly a limit to the FR-S’s trunk capacity: nowhere near a huge practical advantage over the Miata.

Sorry, I mean “MX-5”. I know that’s currently the correct nomenclature for Mazda’s little roadster as the scripted “Miata” was seen as too girly. Here’s an advantage for the FR-S then: in the public view, it’s a dorifto-machine, not some limp-wristed mincing-mobile.

Admittedly, the Miata minces through the corners just fine, and I couldn’t care less about its supposed “girl’s-car” image anyway. But then there are those who worry about that sort of thing, so perhaps the imagined stigma was always too much for you.

Flip-side to this is the V6 Mustang: currently the automotive catch-all du jour. “Why not a V6 Mustang?” Why not indeed?

Here are two reasons: it’s a Mustang, and it’s a V6. Ford’s Pony car won’t work for everyone, and as good as the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-butter V6 is, it’s still seen as the lite option. Someone will inevitably ask you why you didn’t buy the V8 version just as, if you go for the FR-S, someone will inevitably ask you why you didn’t buy the V6 Mustang.

Either way, Saturday night found me at Canadian Tire, purchasing a cordless weed-eater for my tiny suburban lawn. The parking lot is fairly open in the evenings, and an impromptu car show had popped up: Oldsmobile 442s, some Mopar Iron, a Volvo 122s – a very mixed bag.

Just a bunch of guys shooting the breeze over their definitely-non-concourse machines. I strolled through briefly, admiring, listening and nodding, and found myself in a bit of a mood to go for a drive.

I took the long way home, after fiddling with the FR-S’s traction control system (engage sport mode, then hold down the traction control button for a further 2-3 seconds). The car was the same as it ever was. I pushed harder. It got better.

Here, finally, caning the FR-S along the curve, things started to click. It’s not the sportscar second coming of Christ, but it sure works when you thrash the bejesus out of it.

Finding Greatness:
Part of the deal with the old AE-86 is that everyone forgets what a piece of junk that car is, although good fun to flog. Modify it though, and things start getting interesting.

At the last track day I did, an FR-S owner on Dunlop Star Specs was fairly easily keeping up with more powerful machinery. How? He also had a brake upgrade swapped out of an STI. Looked like fun. Did it look like more fun than the NC MX-5 which showed up with Hoosiers stacked on a mini trailer? Uh…

Click here to view the embedded video.

Oh yeah, and there’s this. Want the power the manufacturer isn’t providing off the bat? No problemo. This turbo kit puts out a nice smooth power curve and still uses stock injectors. No need to overnight parts from Japan either – these guys are in Ohio.

Buying a first-year car is always a bit of a crap-shoot. Even the Miata buggered it up with early crank-nose issues. From leaky tail-lights to idle speed problems to erroneous panel-gap fitment, the FR-S has had what can be charitably called teething issues. Here’s a list.

Even still, would I recommend this car? Let’s see: it’s not a better drive than the Miata, but work at it and you’ll find the reward; there’s bound to be aftermarket support to correct most of the issues (the clutch uptake is horrible, but the community’s already all over that one); there’s enough space to just pip the practicality meter. Add this to the fairly reasonable fuel-consumption – though premium is required – and sure, it’s worth a good hard look.

But so’s the ‘Stang, and so’s the MX-5, and so’s a ‘Speed3, and so’s an Abarth, and so is the surprisingly good Genesis coupe. No two ways about it: we’re living in a golden age for cheap motoring. The FR-S is a good choice, but it’s not a no-brainer. None of them are.

Scion Canada provided the car tested and insurance.

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TTAC Track Days Episode 2: Scion FR-S vs. Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T vs. Mazda MX-5 Tue, 07 Aug 2012 15:15:14 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

In our second installment, we take the Scion FR-S to the track, along with the heavier, but more powerful Hyundai Genesis 2.0T and its spiritual antecedent, the Mazda MX-5. Oh, and there are special guests from Japan and America.


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You Heard It Here Second: No Turbo, Convertible Scion FR-S For America Mon, 30 Jul 2012 14:26:58 +0000

One of the most popular “Out of Thin Air” stories over the last 24 months has concerned the existence of a factory turbocharged Scion FR-S. In second place, the existence of a convertible Scion FR-S. At long last, a reliable source of information has confirmed their existence – but we won’t be getting them.

Automotive News’ future product plans for the Japanese OEMs contained this nugget of information from reporter Mark Rechtin

Because pricing of the base FR-S starts above $25,000, the idea of a turbocharged performance version has been shelved because it would be too expensive. Drivers who want more power will get aftermarket kits from Toyota Racing Development, or other kit suppliers, but there will be no retail version.

The convertible also is a no-go for the United States because of the price issue. It will sell in overseas markets with the Toyota “86″ badge

Hopefully that puts to rest the endless rumors surrounding these variants. The constant hand-wringing will only grow stronger following their release in “world markets”, no doubt.


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Stillen Will Sell Scion FR-S Body Kit Designed By Contest Winner – Should GM Bring Back the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild? Sun, 22 Jul 2012 16:27:58 +0000

Former Nissan racer Steve Millen’s aftermarket performance company Stillen is running a contest involving Facebook. Amateur designers can style the company’s body kit that will accompany Stillen’s performance toys for the Scion FR-S. The winner will get to attend SEMA this November, when the body kit will have its first public display. When I saw the headline my first thought was, “What, another social media hypefest?” Just the other day, Derek Kreindler questioned the value of Nissan’s efforts to crowdsource product planning via social media sites. Does the general public know any more about designing cars than it does about product planning? As thousands of aesthetically challenged body kits will attest to, the most talented designers seem to be working for OEMs and design houses, not the aftermarket. Then, my cynical self calmed down a bit and the automotive history buff in me took over and I realized that it’s just a new gloss on an old idea. Entrants have to design their own body kit that consists of a front lip spoiler, side rockers, and rear valances. Stillen’s professional in-house designers will judge the entries, winnowing them down to the top 5 designs. Then via Facebook the public will pick the winner. Stillen has provided a template at the contest’s webpage, and they are encouraging people to enter (multiple times, if they wish) even if they don’t have top level digital rendering skills, saying that the judges’ focus will be on shape and design, not how much Autodesk wu you have.

The use of Facebook may make this contest look contemporary but it hearkens back to a design competition for young designers that started in the 1930s and lasted over three decades, the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild. Not only was the Guild an important part of the way General Motors marketed itself to young people, but GM’s styling department, then under the leadership of Harley Earl, also used the Guild competition in a serious manner to identify and mentor teenagers with enough talent to actually design cars. Furthermore, at its heyday, the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild was a bit of a cultural force. With over 8 million participants, the only youth organization with a larger membership was the Boys Scouts of America. If you were a member of both organizations, you could use your Guild entry to win a merit badge.

Obviously, the Guild was bit more serious than Stillen’s contest, though the goal was about the same: identify talent. Instead of a trip to Vegas, Guild winners won college scholarships. There were junior and senior classes, with first and second place winners in both age categories, as well as regional winners in the national competition. Guild competition winners didn’t just get scholarships. At least two dozen winners went on to careers as auto designers including some very notable stylists like Virgil M. Exner, Jr., Chuck Jordan (who eventually ran GM styling), Richard Arbib, Elia ‘Russ’ Russinoff, and John M. Mellberg.

Though the rules changed over the years, the original structure of the competition was in two levels. The first was to scratch build a scale model of the Napoleonic coach that had served as Fisher Body’s logo since 1922. Winners of that competition would then design and submit models of their idea of a futuristic “dream” car. In 1937, perhaps as a reflection of how important Earl’s Art & Colour department had become in GM’s business model, along with the establishment of design studios at Ford and Detroit’s contract body builders like Murray and Budd, the rules changed to allow an entrant’s choice of either doing the coach or a car model.

The Fisher brothers, like many other successful Detroit automotive industrialists, were very charitable and the Guild started as an effort in philanthropy, with an emphasis on the scholarships. The scholarships were valuable. In 1934, the top prize was a $5,000 college scholarship. With inflation that works out to about $85,000 in 2012 dollars but college costs have vastly outpaced inflation so a $5,000 scholarship was pretty much a full ride deal. In 1934, for example, at the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, tuition was $400 and total annual costs including fees and room & board were less than $1,000 year.

By the late 1950s, though, with past winners working at GM and other companies as designers, many young men understood that winning the competition was a career opportunity to do the thing they loved most, beyond just the chance for a college educations. I say young men because the program was clearly aimed at craftsmen and not craftswomen. Entry blanks in 1930s vintage ads for the Guild say “Boy’s name”, and even into the late 1960s, the ad copy mentioned boys even if the entry blanks didn’t. It’s not clear if girls’ entries would have been rejected but the Guild’s male focus has not escaped attention from academic feminists.

It’s interesting that just as the domestic auto industry embraced youth marketing in the late 1960s, they abandoned the Guild. Perhaps a model making contest was seen as a bit old fashioned after 1967′s Summer of Love. In any case, 1968 was the final year of the competition. Of late there’s been a flurry of interest in the Guild, with books like John Jacobius’ The Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild: An Illustrated History and reunions. The vintage models have even attracted attention from the fine art world. Veterans of the Guild have called on GM to bring it back and, to be honest, with the rendering and 3d printing tools available today, the results might be very impressive. If I was Ed Welburn and Joel Ewanick, I’d pay close attention to Stillen’s contest.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Toyobaru Hype: We’ve Hit Peak Bullshit Fri, 20 Jul 2012 15:06:42 +0000

As if the absurdly hyperbolic headline “The day the world changed” wasn’t enough of a tip-off , the hype machine for the Toyobaru twins has officially reached its zenith, with Wheels magazine’s Peter Robinson declaring the Japanese-spec Toyota 86 to be superior to the Porsche Cayman.

Reading Robinson’s article, it’s as if I’d experienced a different car than the two FR-S’ I’d already driven. Robinson rhetorically muses on whether the transmission is “…the best manual gearchange ever” (Not a chance) and praises the Toyobaru’s steering as being better than the Cayman’s. If you want to feel like you’re driving Polyphony Digital’s approximation of what a Miata feels like, then yes, it’s wonderful. Reading the rest of the article, you’d think that this car could cure cancer, re-ignite the spark in your floundering marriage and make your hairline stop receding.

When I wrote my first article on the hype surrounding this car, I was partly dismayed because I was prepared to go and buy one, with my own money – not as some corporate (or freebie) long-term tester. The reviews I’d read beforehand led me to believe that this was the one we had all been waiting for, the affordable sports car that would set the competition on fire and usher in a new era of focused, rear-drive machines that a punk like me could realistically afford. I tempered my expectations, hoping it was merely a blast to drive, rather than the Second Coming of Christ, but even then, the experience left something to be desired.

Make no mistake; it’s a good car. We need cars like this, badly. It really is light, nimble and engaging, it looks sharp and it’s priced accessibly. And yet, I couldn’t really connect with the car. I began to empathize with the reviewers who felt that the original Lexus LS400 was a well-made simulacrum of a European luxury sedan, but without the essential intangibles that make the car a superlative experience rather than just “good”.

Some people seem to think that I have a particular axe to grind with this car, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. My issue is that the breathless praise of the Toyobaru is harmful to the car itself. The Toyobaru has numerous flaws that keep it from being truly great, but there’s no honor in obscuring them. The engine is a dud, there are instances of embarrassing corner-cutting evident in places that most people don’t look and the dynamics of the car feel more digital than analog – something that may be unavoidable in this era, but it remains a sore spot as long as the MX-5, with its hydraulic steering, frenetic I4 engine and unassailable manual gearbox exists in its current form. Even Randy Pobst, in his recent Motor Trend comparo, felt that the twins lagged behind the MX-5 in subjective driving pleasure.

From that vantage point, comparing it to a Cayman is asinine. The Cayman is better in every single respect, period. It’s also exponentially more expensive, built to a much higher standard and therefore, should be better. Robinson’s insistence to the contrary is disingenuous, and no amount of “everyone has their own opinion” is going to convince me otherwise. It’s a blatant falsehood, like assertions that the Hyundai Equus is superior to the Lexus LS. Both are fine vehicles, but one is simply better than the other, and I can’t ignore it. Would I go and buy the Equus to save some money and get an almost-as-capable car? You bet. But I wouldn’t delude myself into thinking I bought a superior car. Instead I’d be satisfied with the value proposition and the anonymity, and leave it at that. Nobody is cross-shopping the Toyobaru and the Cayman the same way – the car is a stepping stone to Porsche ownership, one that’s been sorely missed in the market. Why pretend otherwise? I’m perfectly content with accepting the Toyobaru on that premise, with all the compromises it entails. But trying to portray it as a “giant killer” or whatever hyperbolic turn-of-phrase is en vogue right now will only induce eye-rolls and lead to unmet expectations. Lest we forget the Camaro and how opinions changed once the rose-tinted glasses came off  a year later.

Fanboyism always plays out the same way. Lacking any concrete or meaningful pursuits to identify with, people hitch their emotional and even spiritual well-being to manufactured brands and entities. They invest themselves in them with literally a religious fervor, and any attack on their chosen entity is taken as blasphemy. Movie critics are getting death threats over poor reviews of the newest Batman flick, and auto journalists are unwilling to give a sober analysis of this car, save for the lads at Evo magazine. Nonwithstanding all the insinuations about being blackballed, my experience has shown me that few journalists (but many readers) are willing to stand up and say “The Emperor has no clothes” when a car doesn’t live up to the hype.

The Toyobaru, at least, isn’t naked.

Postscript: I’ve seen comments on various forums alleging this review was bought and paid for – I promise you, dear reader, it’s not. This is the work of an overly enthusiastic journalist who is either using hyperbole as a literary crutch, or is so self-deluded that they have the gall to run this story without a hint of irony.

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Subaru BRZ Already Comes With Cash On The Hood Tue, 10 Jul 2012 16:43:57 +0000

While the Scion FR-S is performing well in its initial months of sales, the lower volume Subaru BRZ already has some cash on the hood, to the tune of $400.

While the BRZ was never intended to be the volume seller, the slightly pricier BRZ moved 818 units in June, compared to 2,684 examples of the FR-S. Data from TrueCar, provided to USA Today, shows a $400 incentive for the BRZ, which seems fairly early for a brand new, well-hyped sports car so early on in its life.

One area where the BRZ has the FR-S beat is transaction price. While the BRZ carries a price premium of $1,315 over the FR-S (which stickers for $24,930 for the manual, or $26,030 for the automatic), the BRZ’s average transaction price is a fair bit higher; $29,085 for BRZ, versus $25,653 for the FR-S. The Scion only comes with one trim level and a few options, while the BRZ is available in two trim levels, with both models featuring more equipment than their Scion sibling. Given the respective demographics of Scion and Subaru, the transaction price discrepancy isn’t so shocking. Though some of our xB owning readers will surely beg to differ, the odds of an FR-S owner working at McDonalds to pay the car note is far higher than that of someone buying a BRZ.

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